Every sport has it’s one signature event. Golf has The Masters. Hockey has the Stanley Cup Final. Football has the Super Bowl. For professional wrestling, it begins and ends with Wrestlemania. This year’s Wrestlemania featured such themes as the End Of An Era as the Undertaker and Triple H would wrestle one last time. The other big theme was Once In A Lifetime as The Rock and John Cena would go one-on-one in a match that has been building up for the last year.
World Heavyweight Championship Match – Sheamus defeats Daniel Bryan
For the second year in a row, the Smackdown heavyweight championship match opened Wrestlemania. While Edge vs. Del Rio was a sort of retirement match for Edge, this one was looking to be a coming out party for Daniel Bryan. Starting in the doghouse for choking ring announcer Justin Roberts during the Nexus riot, he rocketed up the ranks to World Heavyweight Champion. Despite being a heel, he’s enormously over with the crowd who were chanting “YES! YES! YES!” and brought YES! signs to the show.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve avoided talking about the match. It can be described in three words: NO! NO! NO! The match went all of 18 seconds. D-Bry kisses girlfriend AJ and turns around to a boot to the face for a three-count loss. I only gave it the rating for the crowd and AJ. I could live with Bryan losing but in 18 seconds? Give me and that “WWE Universe” that the WWE pretends to care about a break. It’s a good thing I didn’t see this match live otherwise there might have been stuff broken/thrown in anger.
Kane defeats Randy Orton
Wait, who’s in this singles match? Daniel Bryan? No, but that’s who the crowd wanted. There was even the scattered “YES!” along with the occasional “Daniel Bryan!” chant. Anyway, there wasn’t much spectacular to this match. It felt like a Kane squash for most of the match until Orton mounted a couple of come backs. The finish was neat with Kane requiring a chokeslam off the second rope to win it after his normal chokeslam wasn’t enough. It was better than a TV match but I didn’t expect Punk/Jericho from these two either.
Intercontinental Championship Match – The Big Show defeats Cody Rhodes
I honestly thought that the pre-match video package that Rhodes put together to embarrass Show was more entertaining than the match. Sure, there was good psychology as Rhodes worked the leg while Show countered with power. There was a pretty good spot where Cody went for the Disaster Kick which Show countered with a spear to the nuts. I doubt the nut shot was intentional but it was funny to see Cody reach straight for his gentleman’s vegetables immediately upon taking that spear. I’d have to say that an unintended nut shot a couple of times over the year would keep the show more interesting. After all, America’s Funniest Home Videos became a TV powerhouse Anyway, Big Show won the match and his first IC title with the big knockout punch.
Women’s Tag Team Match – Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos defeat Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres
The match was preceded by a 75-second montage about the glamourous and powerful WWE Divas. It consisted entirely of the Divas dancing, posing and making public appearances. There was no wrestling in that montage. While some of the “Divas” do attempt to wrestle, most of the time, they really look like models playing wrestling. Speaking of which, the Divas division played host to a celebrity for the second straight year. Last year, it was reality TV star Snooki. This year, it’s… Model? Entertainment gossip show interviewer? “Celebrity” dancer? Anyway, it was Maria Menounos who, near as I can figure, is a celebrity because she is one and not for any particular reason. The whole match was setup during an interview during Maria’s show Extra which makes me wonder what the hell was WWE thinking booking a match with someone who didn’t/couldn’t appear on Raw to promote their match. And the crowd agreed with me on that. At least, that’s what I’m calling the “Daniel Bryan!” chants.
The biggest highlight of this match is some of Eve’s spray tan leaving a skidmark on Maria’s face during a stinkface. Well, maybe the quiet “That’s a skidmark!” chant was a bit better. Apart from those, it wasn’t worth putting on a pay-per-view, let alone Wrestlemania. Maria couldn’t sell or really work but you expect that from a celebrity. And that made the supposedly hot tag from Kelly to Maria fall flat. And jobbing out the Divas’ Champion to an interviewer with injured ribs who barely had any offense during the match is an embarrassment to the product. Couldn’t Eve have taken the fall? Though, really, Maria should’ve been jobbed out because one of these wrestling celebrities should do a job at some point (apart from Morton Downey Junior [if taking a fire extinguisher to the face is a job]). But I suppose you needed a bathroom break match before Hell In A Cell.
The End of an Era Hell In A Cell – The Undertaker defeats Triple H
Yes, that’s actually what they called it. I mean, it wasn’t unexpected. Triple H and Taker have both been falling apart over the years. Taker’s knees have left him wrestling only his two Wrestlemania matches over the last seventeen months. Hunter’s quads have been his primary ailment but his ever expanding backstage role meant that he didn’t exactly have to rush back to the ring in order to affect the on air product. (He still owes CM Punk a rematch for that win at Night Of Champions.)
The match started with Undertaker dominating. As big a guy as H is, there’s no reason why Undertaker shouldn’t be able to physically dominate him off the bat thanks to his superior size. The beating was merciless for the first bit as the first ten or so minutes were an absolute physical battle. The tide turned when HHH hit a spinebuster onto the ring steps. Even through Undertaker immediately turned that into the Hell’s Gate submission (a gogoplata [you’re lucky I didn’t write “Go go Gadget plata!]), Hunter turned that MMA move into a classic MMA counter-slam to get out of the move.
From there, The Game took control. He laid waste to Taker with a barrage of chair shots which only put Undertaker down for a two count. Then came the sledgehammer to the face which resulted in a 2.9 count. Shawn Michaels, the special guest referee, became the story here as he kept HHH from squashing UT’s head like a grape with the sledgehammer. He then debated stopping the match because Taker couldn’t defend himself. This resulted in HBK being on the receiving end of a Hell’s Gate. Hunter came to the rescue but got choked out by Taker without a ref to call for the bell. Little Naitch Charles Robinson came to the rescue in time for him to count an Undertaker pin attempt following a chokeslam. Taker wasn’t happy with the two-and-a-half count so up and down Robinson went with a chokeslam.
The match picked up en route to the finish. Taker went for the Tombstone but was thwarted with an HBK Sweet Chin Music into a Pedigree but that was only good for two. From there, the tide of the match turned the way of the Undertaker who beat down Triple H with strikes and chair shots. The finish came when Taker responded to H’s crotch chop with the sledgehammer followed by a Tombstone.
This is both a great and a strange match all at the same time. The match was expertly booked and performed and was exciting throughout despite the fact that we all knew what the end result would be. I suppose the mark of a match is that you never want to see it end. Regardless of this being the end of an era, I think another 15 minutes would’ve made this match one of the best of all-time. Still, that’s a funny thing to say: End of an era. The three men in the ring are synonymous with the late ’90s golden age of wrestling. We don’t want to see them go but we know that their retirements are inevitable. For Shawn, retirement is already official. For Taker and Hunter, it seems as though they’re already retired. The end of an era seems to make it that much more final.
12-Man Tag Team Match for Control of Both Raw and Smackdown – Team Johnny (David Otunga, Mark Henry, Drew McIntyre, The Miz, Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler) defeats Team Teddy (Santino Marella, The Great Khali, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Zack Ryder and Booker T)
For some reason, the Bella Twins are split up and each support a different General Manager. Brie back John Laurenaitis while Nicki was in the corner of Team Teddy Long. The introductions were strange with the Bellas doing the introductions poorly. Neither sound like ring announcers and the team members came out almost too quickly to keep track of. Vickie Guerrero couldn’t figure out how to wave her Team Johnny flag and Nicki Bella said that Hornswoggle’s roll as the flag waver was the “standard barrier” instead of the “standard bearer.”
The problem with one-fall tag team matches with more than four people is that the finishes tend to be massive clusterfucks. Shockingly, that was also the case here. All of Dolph Ziggler making everyone look like a million bucks, including taking a Zack Ryder monkey flip with an epic 450° faceplant, was forgotten by the screwed up finish. All of Team Johnny ended in the same spot outside the ring and took simultaneous splashes from most of Team Teddy. Somewhere in there, Santino hit a Cobra on Miz. Then Zack Ryder goes “Woo! Woo! Woo!” and Eve, who is inexplicably back with Ryder despite being slut shamed by him, does it in the ring with him. That provides a big enough distraction for The Miz to hit the Skullcrushing Finale and give the win to Mr. John Laurenaitis (YES! YES! YES!). Were you able to keep track of that? I wasn’t. But there are three more hyped matches still to go on this card and a little under two hours to get them in. Given the 18 seconds of D-Bry/Sheamus, couldn’t some one have found a little more time for this thing so everyone could at least have a meaningful moment before going to the obligatory cluster finish?
WWE Championship Match – CM Punk defeats Chris Jericho
Before the match, new Raw and Smackdown GM (and Executive Vice President of Talent Relations) Mr. John Laurenaitis told Punk that if he was disqualified he would lose the title. That’s the sort of stipulation that immediately causes an alarm to sound in my head. Usually that sort of stipulation ends in the face champion losing his title via DQ. And the match started like it was going to end in a DQ as Jericho got under Punk’s skin with the end goal of getting Punk to disqualify himself. There were a series of near five counts and Punk almost hitting Jericho with a steel chair while being goaded into it.
After the chair moment, it was a Jeri-show. He hit his dropkicks and other quick offense. He even got the first real spot of the match when he suplexed Punk from inside the ring to the floor. You don’t need chairs or sledgehammers to have a cool looking high-impact spot. Jericho also hit a double-underhook suplex into a backbreaker which is a seldom seen move (though I would’ve preferred it if he would’ve hit the suplex but targeting the back works better in the context of the Walls of Jericho being the end goal). There was also a cool moment when Jericho countered a Punk top-rope hurricanrana attempt into the Walls.
A large portion of this match went back and forth. No one dominated the action for more than a couple of minutes. The finish was a long sequence of counters and counter backs. Punk tried for the GTS which was countered into the Walls (of the vintage Liontamer variety first before becoming more Boston Crab-like). This became a Punk small package rolled into a Jericho pin rolled back into an Anaconda Vice into a Jericho pin back to the Vice into a Walls attempt and back into the Vice. The last Vice attempt finally forced the submission win.
What I loved about this match, besides the technical wrestling and story telling that was lacking from the next match on the card, was that this match showed that you didn’t need a gimmick or a year-long build to have a spectacular match. While Bryan/Sheamus could never have been Punk/Jericho, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been a good singles, one-fall match despite not being a Hell In A Cell or Wrestling Star vs. Movie Star. The problem is that the WWE aren’t developing technical wrestlers in-house and aren’t hiring and promoting many who learned in the indies. Punk came up through the ranks and was in ROH before joining WWE’s version ECW under Paul Heyman. Jericho travelled the world with much of his formative time in Mexico before joining WCW and WWE. It should worry WWE that their most over guys are coming from outside their development system and that they aren’t able to train guys who can call and work matches like the Punks, Jerichos and Bryans of the world.
The Rock defeats John Cena
Between the end of Punk/Jericho and the start of this match, there was a near half-hour break without any actual wrestling. We were teased with a Funkasaurus appearance which ended up being a racist dance routine (though Mama Clay and her Bridge Club were kinda funny). That was followed by a pre-match video package. Then we had the obligatory WrestleMania concert with some scrawny pasty white kid called MGK, who hyped Cena before he came out and got booed for it, and Florida (he may be spelling his name wrong so I corrected it) who preceded Dwayne.
The Rock got the early edge with punches, arm drags and headlocks before Cena focused on the ribs and took control of the match. They did a cool homage to Hogan/Warrior with the double jumping clothesline to drop both men to the canvas. That was followed by the first near fall of the day as Cena hit the Attitude Adjustment after The Rock mocked Cena’s “you can’t see me routine.” This was immediately returned with a Rock Bottom but Cena kicked out of it. The Rock even reached in the bag of tricks and pulled out his ugly version of the Sharpshooter. Cena managed to lock in the STF which The Rock was in for about three minutes before reaching the ropes. The finish came when Cena countered a top-rope crossbody into the AA. He then mocked Dwayne by setting up for the People’s Elbow but was caught with a Rock Bottom coming off the ropes to give The Rock the win.
There were two stories at play in this match. The first was Dwayne sucking wind for the whole match. He was gassed pretty much from the ringing of the bell. The Rock had to lengthy headlocks early on. The ref started the double count-out from both men lying on the ground three times. Cena locked in two bearhugs and that three-minute long STF. These restholds were all in place to try to hide the fact that The Rock wasn’t even close to having his cardio in wrestling shape. That’s understandable because his workouts are now probably geared around getting the right look for movies rather than any sort of lengthy physical exertion. Still, that long delay between five-knuckle shuffle and Attitude Adjustment attempt showed how noticeably out of shape Dwayne was. The WWE should’ve booked Dwayne in at least one match on Raw so he can figure out the pace and cardio work that he needed to get used to before putting him in the main event of the biggest show of the year.
The other big story was the crowd. They were definitely pro-Rock/anti-Cena. The thing was that they were so alive for this match that it felt bigger and better than it actually was. They willed this match from ordinary Cena vs. The Rock to Hogan vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 18. I’ve never really thought of Miami as much of a wrestling town but they were definitely the highlight of Wrestlemania. They made an otherwise forgettable “Once In A Lifetime” match memorable.
Despite the fact that I didn’t seem to like any of the matches apart from Undertaker/HHH and Punk/Jericho, I actually like the show. The Kane/Orton and Rhodes/Show matches weren’t spectacular but they were definitely better than what we see on TV. Mind you, after the disappointment that was last year’s Wrestlemania, I think anything would be considered a triumph for WWE. And it’s already looking good for the future after last Monday’s Raw.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10